OLD MEN AT MIDNIGHT

Chaim Potok, Author . Knopf $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-375-41071-0

The ninth novel from Potok (The Chosen; My Name Is Asher Lev; etc.) is actually a series of three linked novellas, all of which vividly examine the horrors of war. The link is a woman, Ilana Davita Dinn, to whom three different men tell their stories. In "The Ark Builder," Davita, just out of high school in Brooklyn, gives English lessons to 16-year-old Noah Stremin in 1947. The only Jew from his Polish town to survive the Holocaust, he slowly opens up to Davita, telling her of his friendship with Reb Binyomin, the caretaker of his village's synagogue. As a graduate student in "The War Doctor," Davita encourages visiting lecturer Leon Shertov to write about his experiences under Stalin. A young soldier in World War I, Leon was saved by a Jewish doctor, whom he secretly taught to read Hebrew. Later, Leon became a KGB interrogator, and after World War II, he encounters the doctor again—this time as a prisoner, a victim of Stalin's paranoid campaign against physicians. Finally Davita, now a successful author herself, befriends renowned history professor Benjamin Walter as he struggles to write his memoirs. She helps him to remember such pivotal events as his adolescent tutelage under Mr. Zapiski, who served in World War I with his father, as well as his own experiences in World War II. The stories Potok's men tell as they "roar with rage against the void" are as moving as they are riveting. Unfortunately, Davita's role as confessor reduces her to little more than a cipher, and it seems a mistake to have her narrate the first story (Potok at no point sounds like a 17-year-old girl). But "The War Doctor," the grimmest and most nuanced of the stories, alone is worth the price of admission. (Oct. 23)

Reviewed on: 11/05/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Open Ebook - 149 pages - 978-0-307-48900-5
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